Beyond Disney and Studio GhibliDenise Recalde 04.20.2015
As our world becomes continually smaller and more interconnected, the work of creating animation is becoming an international affair, both in creation and distribution. While there has been a longstanding tradition of American studios working with Canadian animators, these international collaborations have extended to countries like South Korea, India, and Estonia. Just as the way creation has globalized, so have studios’ customers and audiences.
This time of transition towards a more international understanding of animation is a perfect chance to look back at the unique animation traditions of different countries. While most people are familiar with American and Japanese animation, there is a stunning variety of beautiful animation styles from countries across the world. Though by no means exhaustive, the Soviet Union, the Czech Republic, and China offer three examples of imaginative, artful, and sometimes-overlooked traditions.
The Soviet Union
Home of some of the world’s earliest and most ground-breaking developments of cinematic technique, it is little wonder that Soviet animators excelled at hand-drawn animation in a range of styles, as well as more experimental techniques like stop-motion and cutout collages. Soviet animation’s borrowing of a variety of techniques from cinema and fine art, as well as its skillful use of music and sound cues, reflected the multidisciplinary influence of Soviet cinema’s early masters like Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov.
One of the most famous examples of Soviet animation is Hedgehog in the Fog (Norshteyn, 1975). The simple potency of the short’s fable-like plot contrasts with the texturally dense animation and sophisticated sound design in a work of poetic, melancholy beauty.
Even mainstream children’s entertainment, such as the stop-motion classic Cheburashka, made use of interesting techniques and was suffused with a sense of fatalism and melancholy. This intrepid blogger and sometime-babysitter can attest from firsthand experience that, after toddlers watch this show, they will burst into tears at the sound of the word “Cheburashka”.
The Czech Republic also has an impressive animation history, full of strange, experimental, and often-dark films. Much like the famously wild and wonderful films of the Czech New Wave in the ‘60s, Czech animation is an ideal example of the outpouring of imagination that can occur under censorship.
One particularly fascinating aspect of Czech cinema is the technique of combining live action film with animation. Pioneering animator Karel Zeman was notable for this type of work, in films reminiscent of those of the magical silent film director Georges Melies. His 1958 film The Fabulous World of Jules Verne illustrates the charming way Zeman melded live action and animation.
While there is a Czech tradition of two-dimensional cartoons, the nation’s cinema is fascinating for its use of stop-motion. Filmmaker Jan Svankmajer has built upon the techniques used by Karel Zeman to produce one of the most imaginative oeuvres of contemporary cinema, with a decidedly dark bent. Svankamjer’s feature-length films often draw on folk tales and works of literature like Alice in Wonderland and Faust. His shorts such as Dimensions of Dialogue (1982), however, offer the purest, most unhinged version of his unsettling vision.
Chinese animation has existed since the early days of cinema, but came into its own in the mid-20th century. Under the influence of animation pioneers the Wan Brothers, Chinese animation addressed traditional Chinese subject matter, and drew its aesthetics from traditional art. Havoc in Heaven (Wan 1964), based on the Ming dynasty novel Journey to the West, exhibits a unique visual style and a thrilling score reminiscent of Peking opera.
Sadly, the Chinese animation industry lay fallow for roughly a decade during the Cultural Revolution, during which time media was expected to function for purely propagandistic purposes. However, by the mid-70s, censorship was relaxed enough to allow artists to once again produce fascinating modern works informed by the past, like the film Three Monks (A 1980).
These fantastic films are only tiny sample of the incredible animation traditions around the world. We at IdeaRocket are constantly inspired by the mindboggling variety of animation that exists all over the globe.